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Artistic Differences

 

Chapter 3

Casey squirmed slightly as Tiesha adjusted the ‘sea shells’ that were her only covering.

"Sorry," she mumbled, when the photographer glanced up at her.

"Just relax, Casey," the lieutenant smiled. She grabbed her camera. "Just try to look like a goddess."

The comment brought a round of giggles, during which Tiesha continued to snap off pictures. The artist had admitted that she wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for, only that she’d know it when she saw it.

"That’s it! Don’t move...just keep thinking whatever it is you’re thinking," Tiesha instructed excitedly. She moved around the slender blonde, the whir of the camera the only sound in the room for several minutes.

Casey couldn’t help but smile when her friend began to rewind the film, the excitement that filled her eyes and the smile on her lips enough to affect her as well. "I take it by the look on your face that you got it?"

Tiesha nodded. "Yep. Three or four, actually. Casey, thank you so much for this!"

"For what? Standing here? Yeah, really hard work," Casey teased gently.

"For being willing to help me like this. Good art depends as much on the subject or model as it does on the talent and skill of the artist."

"I’m not so sure I agree with that. But if I’ve been able to help you at all, then that’s good by me."

Tiesha smiled again. "Well, now comes the hard part."

"What will you do?"

"I have to put just the right background into the picture. I have a couple of ideas, two different goddesses, which one I actually do depends on what I’m able to come up with for that background."

Casey had stepped behind the wood screen, pulled the cloth ‘shells’ from her body, wincing slightly from the ‘stage’ glue that had held them in place. "Well, whatever you decide, it will be beautiful," she said.

Turning off the bright spotlights, and folding the reflectors, stacking them into a far corner, Tiesha sighed. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. Sometimes I’m not so sure."

Dressed, carrying her boots in one hand, her purse in the other, Casey moved back to the middle of the room. "Never doubt yourself. The talent is there. The skill is there. Just believe in yourself. Listen to your heart, Tie."

The young black woman smiled. "Thanks, Casey."

She reached out and hugged her friend. "Any time. I hate to pose and run, but I need to get a load of laundry tossed into the washer, and then finish up a report for General Hammond."

"Job’s not finished ‘til the paperwork is done," Tiesha intoned, her eyes dancing with mirth.

"Way too much paperwork for me," Casey grumbled. "This is the computer age...why should we have to type out freaking reports? Why can’t we just do it on the computer, save it to disk, and hand that over?"

"Because it makes sense?" Tiesha offered.

Casey snorted. "Yeah, and heaven forbid that the military do anything that makes sense. At least, when it comes to paperwork."

Laughing, Tiesha escorted her guest and model to the door. "Thanks again, Casey."

"You’re welcome, Tiesha. Remember, you have to acknowledge me when you’re a rich and famous artist."

"It’s a promise."

With a wave, Casey dashed out the door and to the Jeep. It was just after nine. Plenty of time to get a load of laundry taken care of, the report finished for the general, and make love to her husband. The latter being the most important of all.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Harold was tempted to ignore the ringing of the phone. It wouldn’t do any good. Joey Ricardo would just send one of his goons to pound the door down. He grabbed the receiver. "Yeah?"

"I’m still waiting."

"I’m sorry, Mr. Ricardo. I’ve run into a bit of trouble. There are more security checks in place, and it takes time to get around them. Whatever this is, it’s important."

The silence on the other end had the hacker sweating slightly. "I have another job for you. Tommy is on his way over with instructions. Complete this...task...and you’re hired."

He sighed silently. "Yes, sir."

"Don’t let me down, boy."

"No, sir." He flicked the switch, tossed the phone down beside his computer. Okay, one more time, and then he was calling it a night.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

"There he is again," Jesse said quietly.

"Persistent little bastard," Dennis mused. He began typing. "There. Count how many rolls of toilet paper Cheyenne Mountain orders every month."

Jess snickered. "He has to know we’re onto him by now."

"He’s working for a Mafia don," Dennis said quietly. "He doesn’t have a choice. It’s keep trying, or take a very long walk on a very short pier."

"That is a very motivating factor."

"You’d be surprised what a man is capable of, with the right motivation," Dennis replied.

Jesse studied the man. He knew all about Dennis Ballard. He'd worked on the dossiers of almost everyone who worked for the Stargate Program. While he didn’t know all of the details, he had enough information to understand that his companion had lived through literal hell. He couldn’t even imagine the pain...the humiliation. And he'd been in an Iraqi prison.

"It’s tempting to give him something," Dennis murmured. "Something non-classified. Something that would be at least a tidbit to give to his boss."

"That would only encourage him," Jesse pointed out gently.

Dennis sighed. "I know." A few more taps on the keyboard. "He won’t even be able to access the requisition lists now," he announced. "Maybe now he’ll give up and move on."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

With a snort of disgust, Harold tossed his hands into the air. How in the hell were they doing that? It was as if someone was sitting on the other side, watching his every move...his eyes went wide. Son of a bitch! He jumped up, ran to the window, then flattened himself against the wall, peeking out between the blind and the window frame. He studied the parking lot below. He couldn’t see any vehicles that didn’t belong. His gaze moved up the street. Damn it, he’d never paid enough attention to know if those vans were always parked there at night, or not.

His heart hammering against his ribs, he watched for a moment. Expected to hear pounding on the door at any moment. He shook his head, forced himself to calm down. Even if there was someone who had figured out that he had been into the system, they’d never know it was him. He’d been too careful. Routed his links too far, had them too widely spread to ever lead back to his computer.

He ran a trembling hand over his face. Walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. Okay, so he’d work on whatever little project Mr. Ricardo wanted him to work on. He’d give himself a couple of days break from the military computer job. Maybe all he needed was a break. He’d been hacking the damned thing every night for over a week now.

That thought brought another frown. He was tired, if he had forgotten his own golden rule. Never hack the same place twice in less than a month’s time. Had he become that desperate? He glanced around the apartment. Yep, he’d become that desperate. If he didn’t get a bit of income soon, he’d wind up living out of his car. Not a pleasant prospect. He’d done it before, and it was damned difficult to get back on his feet after dropping that low.

The sound of a fist pounding on his door had him nearly pissing his pants, and his hand reaching for the small gun he kept for his protection. He cleared his throat, willed his body to stop shaking. "What?" he called out.

"Message from Mr. Ricardo," a deep voice replied, barely muffled by the thin door.

Harold nearly sank to the floor in relief. He crossed the small room, yanked the door open.

The courier, named Tommy, was a square box of solid muscle, with a round head shoved on top, and two beefy legs sticking out of the bottom. He pushed a manila envelope at the hacker, waited until Harold had taken it, then turned and walked away.

He watched the back of the man for a moment, then closed the door. He dropped onto the folding chair where he spent so many hours. Carefully broke the seal. Withdrew a sheet of printer paper, and a note...

 

 

Harold glanced at the numbers. Gave a grin. Swiss bank, eh? The security was always tight. It could take as long as thirty minutes to get in. But once inside the firewalls, he’d only need a matter of seconds to make the transfers. He cracked his knuckles. Laced his fingers and stretched his arms out. Shook his hands slightly. Simple as falling off of a log backwards.

Within fifty minutes the job was completed. He wasn’t surprised when the phone rang. "Hello?"

"Good job, kid. I keep my promises. Pack your gear and head up to the house. Tommy will be there with the key and your first pay envelope."

"Thank you, Mr. Ricardo," Harold gushed enthusiastically.

"Get me more on those weapons."

The line went dead. Okay, he’d go up to the house. Get a good night’s sleep. And work on a new angle to get into the computers of Cheyenne Mountain.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Joey Ricardo stared at the computer monitor, a twisted smile on his face. It had taken years to follow the trail of the Bellatoni family money. To find out just where that rat bastard Vincent Bellatoni had hidden all of the money stolen from the Gambottis. It had taken a few hundred thousand dollars, a few threats, and the deaths of a few insignificant ‘middlemen’ to get the account numbers. But his determination and patience had paid off. He’d give his right nut to see the look on Bellatoni’s face when he found out that all of that money had disappeared. Even if the bastard could follow the trail, Joey had made certain that no one would be able to get to the money but himself. Mikey Turner had set up a nice, anonymous account in the Cayman Islands.

As soon as the money hit the Paris and Rome accounts, where that little Maser shitass had sent it, it would be automatically forwarded to a bank in Madrid. Which would then forward it to a bank in New York City. Which had the name of Bellatoni’s oldest son on it, but not his signature. The signature belonged to Joey Ricardo. After the New York stop, it would be spread out into banks all across the Midwestern states. Fifty-seven banks in all. Which would then transfer each part of the money to a five accounts in two banks in San Francisco. Which would finally send it to the Cayman Islands. With the altered ‘origin’ numbers, it would be impossible to trace the money from San Francisco to the Island account. The transactions would be completed within twelve hours. Time zone differences would see to that.

Revenge was sweet, Joey thought, taking a long pull from the beer bottle in his hand. It had taken years. But he’d paid the bastard back in aces. And in a way that was far more devastating than shooting up the Bellatoni home. Whatever Vince Bellatoni had in his local account, and in his pockets, was all the money left to him. Through a bit of wheeling and dealing on his part, Vinny-boy was going to find his sources of drugs, guns, cigarettes and booze completely dried up. And his little side business, dealing in the capture and sale of children from African countries into the domestic staffs of very wealthy, East Coast American households, was about to go tits up as well. By now the FBI had the anonymous letter that contained all the pertinent information on that little set-up.

The best part, Joey thought, a grim smile still on his face, was that no one would ever connect him with what had happened. Hell, everyone thought he was dead. A little lie that he continued to perpetuate as needed. If his employees had been successful, Bellatoni would turn on his own sons, and three other minor crime families. When the dust settled, Joey Ricardo would be the wealthiest Mafia Don in the country. He controlled almost forty percent of the drug traffic coming up from Mexico. The others would be forced to deal with him, or go out of business. Joey didn’t give a damn which.

Yes, revenge was very, very sweet.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The team waited expectantly as General Hammond reviewed their reports. Daniel, Casey, and Sam had carefully written out every reason they could in order to make the mission happen...another attempt to deal with the leadership of Kelowna.

The general closed the last folder, Casey’s report, which included the information ‘downloaded’ to her the day before. "While SG-9 didn’t return from Kelowna under fire, there was the expectation that we wouldn't try to contact them again."

"Sir, something is going on," Casey said. "I’m not sure what...only that it’s big."

"Dangerous?" the Texan asked.

She shook her head. "No, sir. I’m not sensing any danger at all, to any of us." No one missed the fact that her hand had automatically closed over Daniel’s. They were well aware of what his fate would have been had Casey not been in the SGC to stop the team from embarking on what would have been a disastrous and heartbreaking mission.

Daniel gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. Her insistence that something good could, and most probably would, be the result of this visit had put his own fears to rest. There was no way that she would ever allow him to go anywhere that danger might be lurking. He had to admit that her determination to keep him safe sent waves of love washing over his very soul. He continued to struggle with his conflicted feelings about her protection of him.

"Sir, if we can aid the Kelownans, give them the schematics for the power source that Doctor Lee and I are working on, we might be able to negotiate for a bit of ‘natural’ naquadria," Sam said.

"General, these people are in danger from the Goa’uld, especially if any of the System Lords find out that Kelowna has naquadria," Daniel interjected. "We should at least warn them."

With a sigh, Hammond sat back in his chair. He hadn’t missed the fact that Colonel O’Neill had been uncharacteristically quiet regarding the mission. "Colonel, your thoughts?"

Jack squirmed slightly. "Well, sir, I’m not anxious to go somewhere that we know we’re not welcome. Those people might take it into their heads that we’re trespassing or invading or some such thing. We could wind up in their jail somewhere, and that could become a diplomatic nightmare."

Casey was shaking her head. "It won’t happen," she said firmly.

"Radar, you can’t give me a one hundred percent guarantee on that," Jack replied gently. He'd asked her before the briefing if she could promise him that nothing would go wrong on the mission. Those green eyes had completely avoided his gaze, and she had finally admitted her inability to do so.

"Jack, if there were danger, serious danger, or even trouble associated with this mission, I’d have seen it," she insisted.

"One hundred percent, money back guarantee?" He held her gaze for several long minutes. Watched her eyes drop in defeat. He heaved a sigh. "Sir - Major Carter, Daniel, and Casey have made some very valid points. I suppose that one more attempt could be made. Just have the Marines standing by."

Hammond nodded slowly. "I agree, Colonel. If we can obtain even a small amount of naquadria, and manage to warn these people of the threat of the Goa’uld, it will be worth the risk, as minor as it might be," he said, looking at Casey. The young seer hadn’t been wrong yet. Oh, she didn’t always get all of the details, and there had been occasions when that had been a bit of a disadvantage. But there had been two deaths since her arrival at the SGC nearly two years earlier. That had been the average for a month before she had started working in the secret mountain facility. Wounds had been minor as well, and several treaties had been the direct result of her insights. "Casey, I want you to do a search before you leave, just to make certain. And I want you to pay close attention to any feelings of unease. Tell Colonel O’Neill immediately."

"Yes, sir," she replied.

"Colonel, if Casey says anything, or if your own instincts are warning you, I want you back here."

"Yes, sir," Jack replied.

"Doctor Jackson, if you can get permission from the Kelownan’s for your visit, then this mission is a go. When you leave will depend on the people we’re about to pester."

Daniel nodded his understanding.

"Thank you, sir," Casey said, smiling brightly.

The general couldn’t help but return the smile. "You’re welcome."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Tiesha caught up with Casey in the elevator as the young seer was making her way to the gym to workout with Teal’c. "I have it," she said, grinning from ear to ear. It hadn’t taken long to get the photo turned into the black and white portrait she had envisioned...just a couple of hours, as a matter of fact.

"That’s great!"

"If you’d like to stop by tonight, I’ll let you see it. And, I hoped maybe you’d pose again."

Casey frowned. "Again?"

"I was an idiot and didn’t shoot any color film. I thought I’d do a print for you and Doctor Jackson. A thank you of sorts."

The frown melted into a smile. "Tiesha, that is so very sweet!"

"So, up to standing there for a bit?"

She giggled. "I think I can handle it."

"Good. I have to be at the college at seven thirty to help out in the lab...could you stop by around six?"

"I’ll be there," Casey promised. She waved as the lieutenant stepped off of the elevator. Couldn’t wait to see what Tiesha’s talented mind had created.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The photo was exquisite...just as she had known it would be. She listened, a smile on her face, as Tiesha explained how she had managed to turn a simple black and white photo into a work of art.

Posing for the lieutenant again took less than forty minutes. It wasn’t difficult to follow the young woman’s instructions...several made almost absently as the camera whirred and clicked, capturing image after image...moment after moment.

With a triumphant grin, Tiesha announced that once again she ‘had it’...that perfect shot, the one she had sought to duplicate.

Casey wondered where they would hang this portrait...given the reason for this particular ‘session’. Grinned as she thought about the fact that their bedroom was becoming a gallery of erotic art.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Harold took the key from Tommy, watched as that man crawled back into a black Suburban. He was certain there as at least one man in the backseat as well. Three goons to deliver a key? Did Ricardo really think someone would ambush them for it? The house was nice, granted, but not that nice!

The den was a masculine retreat. Decorated with dark cherry woods, deep burgundy wallpaper, and rich emerald accents, it fairly screamed ‘executive’. Harold settled into the leather chair behind the massive desk, ran his hand over the smooth-as-glass top. Carefully positioned his laptop, searching the nearby wall for a power outlet. He grinned when he spotted a cable modem sitting beside the computer that occupied the built-in desk in the corner. Even knowing that the computer was probably linked in some way to Joey Ricardo’s system, curiosity won out, and Harold turned on the basic tower. Spent the first three hours in his new home searching through every folder, examining every bit of information that the hard drive held. Even managed to pull up files that had been deleted, but never erased. Most of the information was innocuous...likely left by a former ‘tenant’ in the house. The porn had been deleted, but not erased. Whoever the guy was, he’d been into young men. Harold carefully erased all traces of the porn, he sure as hell didn’t want his new boss to think he was into that crap!

The list of oddly named folders he retrieved seemed to be just as useless as the rest information he had located. Harold was thorough, if nothing else. He bit back a gasp when he opened the first folder. Names and dates. Okay, alone, without a point of reference, it all meant nothing. The second folder had a list of the same names, and numbers. His experience told him that they were bank account numbers. The third list had the numbers, dates and deposits. The fourth listed the names and their ‘occupation’.

It was the fifth folder that had Harold breaking out into a sweat. It contained PDF files; maps and dates, places, and names. It took nearly thirty minutes for him to work out exactly what he was looking at. Joey Ricardo’s drug running operation was sitting in front of him. Everything was there...enough to put Joey and the people listed in federal prison for a very long time.

He might not have been the smartest man when it came to the mob. But Harold knew two things. That information could protect him. And it could keep him on Joey’s payroll indefinitely. He glanced over his shoulder, for a moment terrified that perhaps the room was bugged somehow, or that his every keystroke was being monitored. He took a deep breath. Carefully recorded everything to two sets of disks. One he hid in a carefully concealed compartment of the hard-sided case he used to transport his laptop. The others he put into plastic jewels. He found a wide variety of stationary in the cupboard next to the computer desk. He carefully inserted two jewels per envelope, using the bubble-wrap lined mailers he had located. Addressed them to the post office box that he kept in Denver. Later in the week he’d make a trip to the city, and transfer those unopened envelopes to the safety deposit box he had there. It would be easy enough to set up a schedule for checking on the contents. If he failed to show up, the instructions in the forms would guarantee just exactly what the results would be.

Once his heart had stopped pounding, and his hands had ceased shaking, Harold decided to stock up the well-appointed kitchen. He was whistling when he pulled his car out of the garage. His place on Joey Ricardo’s payroll was as good as set in cement. He just had to be very careful about how he played the very impressive cards he’d been dealt.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

"Godspeed," General Hammond called from the control room. The persuasive charm of the resident archaeologist had garnered the team permission for a ‘short’ visit, approved by the Kelownan Council. Their arrival was expected immediately, which had sent the team into overdrive to gather weapons and packs already filled with the gear they might need.

Jack gave his customary wave, and led the team up the ramp, into the event horizon. He’d never be thrilled about this mission. He’d even argued against it. After all, these folks hadn’t been so friendly when SG-9 had visited. True, Daniel had managed to get the okay for them to speak to the leaders of Kelowna, using the information that Radar’s downloads had given them. But the people of the planet, or at least this particular group, had made it clear they weren’t interested in any treaties or agreements.

Casey was clinging to Daniel’s hand as they stepped into the room. Twenty armed soldiers surrounded the ‘gate, all of them pointing their weapons at the five newly arrived people.

"Welcome to Kelowna," a voice said. The English was accented, but easily understood. A young man pushed passed several of the soldiers, tossing disapproving looks at the armed men.

"Jonas!" It was out before she could stop it. The familiar, friendly face among the dozens that scowled at them had been such a relief that she didn’t stop long enough to recall from where she knew the young man.

"I’m sorry, have we met?" Jonas asked, frowning with concentration.

Casey blushed, shook her head. "Not exactly. At least...not here."

Daniel smiled. "I’m Doctor Daniel Jackson," he said, extending his hand. "This is my Wife, Casey."

"I’m honored to meet you," Jonas replied. "I’m Jonas Quinn. Special Advisor to the High Minister of Kelowna."

"My teammates, Major Samantha Carter, and Teal’c of Chulak. And our commanding officer, Colonel Jack O’Neill."

Jonas stared at Teal’c for a moment, then pointed to his own forehead. "Your mark, it means something?"

"Indeed," Teal’c replied. "It is a symbol of my former slavery to a false god known as Apophis."

Jonas nodded. "False gods. I believe Major Farnsworth called them Guld."

"Goa’uld," Daniel corrected with a smile.

"So, where’s your High Minister?" Jack asked, looking around. Other than the soldiers, and a couple of people who looked like nosy administration types, he didn’t see anyone that fit the bill of ‘leader’.

The young man blanched slightly. "He...um...Commander Hale had several important meetings this afternoon, and was unable to greet you. I’ve been instructed to take you to our Council Chambers. He’ll meet you there." Jonas was still baffled by that man’s attitude. People from another planet were visiting, and weekly reports were more important? He hoped his suspicions - that Commander Hale would leave the visitors waiting until they were either bored to death, or offended enough to leave - were in error. His gut was telling him otherwise.

"Right," Jack muttered. "Look, we-"

"We’d like to discuss findings we’ve made in regard to naquadria," Daniel said, tossing a look of annoyance at Jack. "Major Carter is an astrophysicist, and has been instrumental in adapting alien technology to our own energy needs. She and several others working with naquadria have discovered the possibility of using that substance for providing unlimited energy."

"Nearly unlimited," Sam corrected with a smile. "I have the results of several of our most recent tests."

"May I see them?" Jonas asked. He gave a shy smile. "I’ve been working with Doctor Kieran on the development of naquadria."

"Yeah, heard that didn’t go so well," Jack drawled.

"There was an...accident," Jonas acknowledged.

Casey cocked her head sideways. "You were the one to convince him that it was too dangerous to continue on the project they had been working on, that any weapon based on naquadria would destroy the entire planet," she said softly.

Hazel-green eyes went wide. "How do you know that?"

Daniel smiled reassuringly. "Casey is a seer. Very powerful one, too."

"Look, kid, is this leader of yours going to be around any time soon?" Jack asked. He glanced at Daniel. Saw from the expression on his face that the archaeologist understood. They would do their ‘good cop-bad cop’ impressions and see how far it got them. Sometimes it actually worked. Hopefully, this would be one of those times.

He rolled his eyes. "I apologize for my commanding officer. He’s a bit...grumpy...today." Daniel knew that Jack’s finely honed instincts were telling him something. He’d play along for now.

Jonas flashed a smile. "I understand. Please, if you’ll come this way, there are refreshments waiting."

The team stepped forward. "You can leave your weapons here," a man, the obvious commander of the troops who continued to watch them carefully, said. It was just as obvious he had no desire to allow armed strangers past his men and himself.

"Captain Dregard would like for you to leave your weapons here," Jonas explained, when it was obvious that the visitors hadn't understood the 'order'.

"Uh uh. That’s not going to happen," Jack responded.

The captain noted that each of the strangers had moved slightly, hands that had merely been holding the odd looking weapons were now adjusting themselves slightly, fingers moving toward the triggers. Bodies had flexed as well, all of them had stiffened at his demand. These people were seasoned soldiers. Although they were out-gunned four to one, he had no doubt that they’d take his men out with little effort, even if they did die during the battle.

"Jack, it would be a tangible sign of our peaceful intentions," Daniel argued.

"No way, Daniel. I’m not about to disarm my team in the middle of a group of unfriendlies," Jack growled.

Jonas stepped toward the unit commander. "Captain Dregard, perhaps if your men lowered their weapons, our visitors wouldn’t feel threatened," he suggested. Glancing over his shoulder, he offered another smile.

The captain and the colonel continued to stare at one another. Two battle scarred veterans who knew that they could stand down, or allow the tension to continue building, resulting in a situation that no one wanted. Dregard waved a hand, weapons were lowered. He noted that the visitors relaxed immediately. He gave a barely perceptible nod toward the man named O’Neill. Saw that the message had been received, and a barely there nod was returned. Two seasoned warriors, acknowledging the strength, and wisdom, of the other.

Jack let his P90 drop, swinging from the clip attached to his tac vest.

Smiling now, Jonas held an arm out, signaling that the team should join him. "This way, please."

Daniel and Casey joined him immediately; Jack, Sam, and Teal’c were a bit slower to move forward. It was obvious to all in the room that, in spite of the fact that they were dressed the same as their companions, and that they held their weapons with as much ease and familiarity, the doctor and his wife were not professional soldiers.

An interesting mix, Dregard thought, watching as the visitors followed Quinn to the room that had been set up. The five would be escorted into the Council Building. He already had five teams there, ready to defend the leaders of Kelowna. Given what he had just observed, he wasn’t sure at all that the preventative measure would be necessary.

 

 

 

Jonas fell into step beside the blonde seer as they were led upward into the Council Building. The construction was finally complete, just a few finishing touches remained, and only a few of the offices were yet unoccupied by the elected representatives of the Kelownan people. The original Council Building had also sat just above the secret lower levels that housed the Chappa’ai, and the laboratories where the ill-fated experiments with naquadria had been conducted. The force of the explosion had shot upwards, leaving all of the sublevels of the research facility intact. It hadn’t been difficult to convince his friend and mentor that further experimentation using the material for weapons was not in the best interest of the Kelownan people. Work with naquadria had halted completely, even after the destroyed levels and the building above had been cleared and rebuilt. Not until the arrival of the strangers from a place called the SGC on a planet named Earth had the scientists even considered collecting more naquadria and beginning work to find a way to use the ore as a power source.

"You’re curious as to how I know you," Casey said, smiling softly.

"Very curious," Jonas admitted, with a smile.

"My teammates located a device that had been built by the Ancients. It was a teaching device. It...opened a window...to alternate realities. I...I..." she shook her head slightly. "I spent some time in an alternate reality, one where Daniel had been killed in the accident that happened here. He stopped the explosion, but gave his life, from a fatal dose of radiation, to do so. You...your counterpart in that reality," she corrected herself, "was furious with your leaders for allowing Daniel and the other members of SG-1 to be blamed for sabotage, when you, yourself, had been witness to what happened. You gathered as much naquadria as you could, and went through the ‘gate to the SGC. You became a member of SG-1."

"In that reality." There was no doubt in his eyes. He willingly accepted her explanation. After all, if she had arrived on Kelowna by means of a stable wormhole, how could he doubt the existence of other realities as well?

Casey’s smile widened. "In that reality. My...counterpart...didn’t arrive in time to warn them of the catastrophe. Which filled her with regret and guilt. You...the Jonas Quinn of the reality, was my counterpart’s friend. I hope that she had a chance to tell that Jonas Quinn how much she valued his friendship."

"I would like to think that you and I could become friends in this reality," Jonas replied, with a shy smile.

"I’d like that," Casey said sincerely.

Daniel wrapped his arm around Casey’s shoulders.

"I’d like to become your friend as well, Doctor Jackson," Jonas said quickly, noting the movement, one of possessive love.

"I feel the same," Daniel smiled.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Tiesha was finally going to have time to work on her project. The debrief for the mission SG-16 had been on that morning hadn’t been long, and the general had given them the remainder of the day off. It was just after one...she’d have the rest of the day to work.

She flipped off the light in the darkroom. Pulled the film from the protective case, and carefully threaded it onto a waiting reel, her fingers accustomed to the process, even if her eyes couldn’t see. She grabbed a bottle, checked the label to make certain it was what she wanted; which was accomplished by tracing the very large letter ‘d’ taped to the side of the plastic container, poured a generous amount into the tank, then dropped the reel into the developing solution. The tank was metal, about as big in width and length as a dishpan, but only two-thirds as high, with an attached, hinged lid. It was easy enough to handle, which was crucial for anyone using the tray to develop film. When the lid was closed tightly on the tank, she turned the light back on, started the timer, and began to gently tip the tank back and forth.

Her thoughts wandered a bit as her hands continued with the familiar task. She hadn’t been this excited about a contest since college. She’d won third place in the photography division, second in the oil painting. The painting had been her rendition of the photo she had taken...a soulful view, perhaps even a bit pensive, of the bare, stark park she had discovered completely by accident. That she had been a sophomore competing against upperclassmen had made her wins all the more impressive. She'd entered the contest her junior and senior years as well, but there had never been the drive to find the best shot for her photos as there had been during her first competition; and she hadn’t painted after leaving the art class, and the instructor who had been so encouraging. She hadn’t felt that breathless wonder, the sheer joy of competing with peers in the world of art. Until now.

The fact that the contest had guidelines, rather than allowing individual concepts, was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because she didn’t have to waste time trying to decide what to do; and a curse, because it limited her in exactly what she could do. There was the chance that it was these circumstances that the owners of the gallery wanted to create, to both inspire and hinder the artists who would enter the contest. It required discipline as well as artistic vision. She could only hope that she was up to the task.

The black and white photo was finished, ready to frame. Casey had been surprised...pleasantly, she thought, at how she had used shadows as ‘cover’. It gave the piece an almost surreal quality, as if the goddess was there, but wasn’t. Finding the right ocean shot to use in the background had been a bitch, but well worth the search, and the hassle of locating the original artist. Who had been very kind and had immediately granted her permission to use the picture. It was so old, the artist had informed her, an earlier work that had never been ‘quite right’, and that as a result, acknowledgement wasn’t necessary. She wasn’t so sure about it not being right, she thought the photo was great. But she wasn’t going to argue, either. She did have the email from the artist, in case there were any questions.

When Casey'd had no objections to posing again, in an attempt to catch the same shot in color, which Tiesha still berated herself for not thinking about earlier, she had clicked off an entire roll of film. As usual, each shot had been spectacular. She'd already determined that shot number four was the closest to the ‘original’ that she had done in black and white. But shot number seven was one that she was sure Dr. Jackson would appreciate. Which was the entire reason for doing the color shots...a ‘payback’ for his willingness to allow his wife to pose for her. And the reason she was standing in the lab now.

The timer went off with a loud ‘ding’, pulling her attention back to the job at hand. Carefully, so as not to spill any of the liquid, she poured the developing solution back into the bottle. Tightened the cap, and reached for the bottle of fixing solution; poured it into the waiting tank. This process would stop the development of the film. Another six minutes on the timer. Again she agitated the tank to make certain that the film was completely immersed, and every centimeter touched by the chemical.

Twenty minutes later she was examining the film. Felt her heart begin to beat faster. She carefully printed out shots four and seven. Enlarged both to a nice eight by ten size. Scanned both with a critical eye...and immediately saw the potential.

"Omigod!"

It was, in her opinion, the most incredible photograph she had ever taken. Casey was a natural in front of the camera. The camera loved her. Her hand reached out for the brochure, as an idea, one so far from left field it left her with sweaty palms, began to bounce around in her head. It was joined by another, and another, and another. Her eyes moved to the ready-to-frame black and white portrait. Went back to the color glossy in front of her. This was her chance, maybe her only chance, to show just what she was capable of...to express herself in a medium she hadn’t touched in years. She had a few days leave built up...Oh, she had to do this, she just had to!

She searched for and found her phone book. Looked up the number for the nearby art supply store. "Hi, yes, I need a canvas. A very, very large canvas..."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Jack repeatedly slapped his ball cap against his thigh. "Two hours. We’ve been waiting for two hours!"

Sam looked up from the papers she had been reading, with help from Daniel...the written language a variant of Latin that he recognized. Papers that Jonas had supplied, reports of the Kelownan’s attempts to find a method stable enough to use naquadria as a source of energy. "They’ve gone down a totally different path than we have," she said.

"Is that good or bad?" Casey asked.

"I’m not sure," Sam admitted. "To be honest, I don’t think they’ll have any success with this particular attempt. But there are three steps, that if incorporated into what we’re trying to do, might get us past the block we’ve hit."

The door to the inner office swung open. Commander Hale stood in the doorway. Frowned deeply when he took note of the folder in Sam’s hands. "That is classified material!" His English, like that of Jonas, was thickly accented, but understandable.

"Not according to Jonas Quinn," Sam replied quickly.

"Jonas Quinn knows better than to allow...outsiders...to see any of our work!"

"What are you afraid of, Commander?" Jack asked, shifting closer to his lover and second-in-command.

"I fear nothing."

"Then you are a fool," Teal’c said quietly.

Hale looked the Jaffa over. "Just what are you?"

"I am a Jaffa."

"Oh yes, I believe Major Farnsworth mentioned your kind. I thought you were the enemy of the people of Earth."

"I left the service of the false gods several years ago, and fight beside the Tau’ri for the freedom of all Jaffa," Teal’c replied calmly.

"Hmmph."

"Freedom for all frightens you," Casey said softly, her head cocked slightly to the side. "If the people are free to make their own choices, it takes complete control from your hands. You want...you want..." she closed her eyes as the flash of white light filled her mind.

Daniel jumped to his feet, pulled her into his arms. "Deep breaths. Slow, relaxed, deep breaths."

"What is going on?" Hale demanded to know.

"Incoming," Jack replied. "Radar there gets the heads up that we need for all of our missions. For all I know, right now she’s getting a peek at everything you’ve ever done, and everything you’re planning to do."

The Kelownan leader paled slightly. "A seer?" 

"The best there is," Jack said proudly.

Casey opened her eyes. "You don’t want the people of Kelowna to know that the leaders of your neighboring countries have offered peace, have been begging for peace. You don’t want anyone working on the energy project to know that you have a small group of scientists still working on a bomb. Two bombs."

"You’re an idiot!" Daniel hissed, his eyes narrowing as he looked at the military leader. "Just one bomb will be enough to destroy all life on this planet!"

"Nonsense! The attacks will be precise! There will be no danger for our people, my scientists assure me-"

"The radiation from a bomb will fill the air, poison it," Sam butted in. "If the explosion is large enough, the amount of soil and debris thrown into the air will be significant, and the finest particles will remain in the upper atmosphere. They’ll block sunlight, reflecting it back into space. This planet will face what we call a nuclear winter. And there’s not much hope of anyone surviving one of those."

"You have no idea what you’re talking about!" Hale retorted.

"On the contrary, I believe that these people know exactly what they speak of," a voice called from the doorway to the corridor. Scientists loyal to her faction had described such a horrendous result if a naquadria bomb, even one, was unleashed on the unsuspecting citizens of either of their neighboring countries. The woman stepped into the antechamber where the team had been waiting to speak to the Kelownan leader. "I’m Ambassador Dreylock. I’ve only just learned of your arrival." She turned to Hale. "I’m assuming that you hadn’t had time to alert me yourself."

The team could sense that there was long standing, underlying tension between the two. "I’m Doctor Daniel Jackson," Daniel said, stepping forward. "Our commanding officer, Colonel Jack O’Neill, Major Samantha Carter, one of our greatest astrophysicists, my Wife Casey, and Teal’c of Chulak."

The woman greeted each team member with a regal dip of her head. She turned to Sam. "I see that you’ve been supplied with a copy of our latest research report."

"Yes, ma’am," Sam replied. "Your scientists have taken a different track than we have, and I’m afraid they’re going to be disappointed. However, there are three processes that I’m very interested in, they might be the key to helping us move past our own problems. I’d be more than happy to show your people what we’ve come up with. Together, we might be able to create that energy source."

Dreylock smiled brightly. "Major Carter, that is wonderful news! Please, would you be willing to discuss this with Tomis Leed? He’s our lead researcher for this project."

"Sure!"

Daniel smiled at the Ambassador, then turned to smirk at Hale. "I don’t suppose you’d be willing to listen to the intel we have on the Goa’uld, an enemy that will cut a short path to get here if they find out about your naquadria."

Hale studied the young man. Dreylock was a sentimental fool. She' d been pushing for peace between Kelowna, Terania, and the Andari ever since the incident. "Your Major Farnsworth told me...us...all we need to know about these aliens. Since you have no proof that Kelowna is in any immediate danger, I don’t believe that we need worry about such things at the moment."

Jack shook his head. "Mister, you could wake up tomorrow morning with a Goa’uld ship parked right up there," he said, pointing upward. "Trust me, by the time you’ve got your socks on, that snake would have declared himself, or herself, your god. And Jaffa would be swarming the streets. Rounding up people as slaves...that’s if they’re lucky. The unluckiest of them all would be used as new hosts."

Hale’s eyes went to Teal’c, then back to Jack. "Our military is more than adequate, Colonel. I have no doubt that we can defend ourselves."

Jack sighed. "Teal’c, I think the Commander needs a demonstration of what a Jaffa staff weapon can do."

With a nod, Teal’c spun his staff, fired at a chair in the corner, disintegrating it.

Hale and Dreylock both gaped in shock.

"That’s just one staff weapon. Every Jaffa warrior carries one. What they have on their ships makes that look like nothing," Jack said quietly. "They’ll have your military knocked down and out in less than an hour."

"How do you know this?"

"Because we’ve fought them. We’ve tried to prevent them from taking over other villages, other cities," Daniel said quietly. "Because we’ve seen it happen."

Dreylock shivered slightly. "How can we prevent these...Goa’uld...from attacking?"

"To be honest, ma’am," Jack said, "You can’t. The best you can do is hope that they don’t discover this little planet. And if they do, that you have allies who can help you out."

The ambassador looked at the leader of Kelowna. "Perhaps we should discuss this further-"

"There is nothing to discuss," Hale snapped. "Colonel, you and your people will be escorted back to the Chappa’ai. And I warn you, do not attempt to come here again."

"Commander!" Dreylock gave the man a cold stare. "You do not speak for the entire council!"

Hale looked as if he were about to argue when Jonas Quinn walked into the room.

"Jonas!" Dreylock smiled at the new arrival. "Would you be so kind as to take our guests to the VIP quarters? I need to arrange the meeting with the other council members."

"Of course, Ambassador," Jonas replied.

"I’ll allow you to arrange the meeting...with the Council. Until then, I expect them to remain in their quarters!" Hale said, his face red with anger. His eyes bore into Dreylock. "I will hold you responsible!"

Silence followed the explosive exit of the commander as he slammed the door to his office closed behind him. The ambassador turned to Daniel, knowing instinctively that he was the diplomat of the group, gave an embarrassed smile. "After you’ve rested, I would be honored if you’d join me for the evening meal," she said softly, glancing nervously toward the closed door of the inner office.

"It would our pleasure," Daniel replied, smiling warmly.

"Don’t mind him," Dreylock said, trying to instill the sense that she had been less intimidated than she actually was. "He stands nearly alone. Those who do stand with him do not have the power nor influence to do anything more than mouth their support. His way of thinking is not that of all Kelownans."

"His way of thinking is not that of most Kelownans," Jonas snorted.

"That’s good to hear," Daniel said.

"I will see you for the evening meal," Dreylock said, giving each of the team members a smile.

"We look forward to it," Daniel said.

The ambassador hurried from the room. "I guess she got my note," Jonas said, giving a guilty smile.

"Then we owe you a debt of gratitude," Daniel said. "We really do want to become friends with the Kelownans, and if Sam and...um...Tomis Leed...can work out the kinks, there could be a power source that would be beneficial to all of our peoples."

Jonas beamed happily. "If you’ll come with me, I’ll show you to the quarters reserved for visiting dignitaries."

"Thank you, Jonas," Casey said, flashing a smile.

Daniel bit back his chuckle as the young Kelownan nearly swooned. Offered her a smile when she looked up at him, lacing her fingers with his. His own heart was beating a tattoo against his ribs at the love that filled her eyes.

Jack grinned at the couple, pushed between them to follow their young host, his silent way of reminding them that they were on a mission. With matching grins of their own, they fell into step behind him, Sam and Teal’c on their heels as they followed Jonas deeper into the imposing building.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Jesse ran a hand over his face. Picked up his coffee mug, frowned to find it empty. He stood, shuffled wearily to the counter where the coffee maker sat. Groaned to find it empty as well.

"Any activity?" Dennis asked, walking into the room, looking as fresh as the sunshine that was bathing the world topside.

"Nope," Jesse replied, filling the filter and carefully placing it into the basket. He rinsed the empty glass carafe, poured cold water into the reservoir, the switched the machine on.

"Do you think he’s stopped?"

The younger man looked over at his newly acquired friend. "Would you?"

"Hell, no! If I knew something was there, I’d be hell bent to find it again."

"Me, too," Jesse admitted. "He’s going to be harder to follow. This guy is good. He’ll find every back door there is. He’ll leave keys for himself to use each time he gets past another firewall."

Dennis nodded. "He’ll have his own firewalls looking for any packets we might send, so he can analyze them. We won't be able to wipe his hard drive again."

"Ya know, if we find this guy, we should hire him."

The older man smiled. "Always a good thing to have the hackers working for you, rather than against you."

"Straight up."

"What?"

Jesse grinned. "Straight up. It means...absolutely."

Dennis shook his head. "I guess I missed much more than I ever realized."

The younger man grabbed a nearby chair, whirled it around and straddled it, resting his arms on the back, and his chin on his forearm. "You don’t have to answer this question, but how did you deal with all of...that? How did you keep from going crazy? I can’t imagine that being the computer expert of the operation offered much...refuge."

Dennis settled onto the desk. "They say that talking about what happened to you, what was done to you, helps in the recovery process."

"Do you believe that?"

"I don’t know. I told General Hammond, and Colonel O’Neill, and Doctor Jackson what happened to me. As I recall, Teal’c was there as well. But I didn’t tell them everything. Not that they needed to know the details to understand that they could trust me. They never pushed, never demanded more than I could give them," the older man said softly.

"Sometimes, when I think about that damned Iraqi hell-hole, I call up the boss, or Lucky. He was there, too. Sometimes, I go to a bar. I just need to tell someone who won’t give a damn, who won’t get all emotional about it," Jesse admitted. "Someone who won’t be bothered to tell anyone else."

"Exactly," Dennis replied, his gray head nodding in agreement. "I warn you, this won’t be easy to hear. And it will probably affect how you view me."

Jesse gave a crooked smile. "Man, what happens in hell has nothing to do with what or who we are."

Those were the words of a man who had been raped, Dennis thought. "You have a very firm grasp of the truth, Jesse."

"Yeah, well, I could have done without the firsthand experience to get that grasp."

"Of that I have no doubt." Dennis took a deep breath. Blew it out slowly. "Twenty some years ago, I worked for a company named Hartford Securities."

Jesse perked up. "They were one of the top software security firms in the early eighties!"

"The top," Dennis said, not a little pride in his voice. "I was one of the reasons for that reputation."

There was no bravado, no sense of bragging. The man was just stating a simple, honest fact, Jesse thought. He nodded, encouraging the man to continue.

"I was a fool," Dennis said softly. "And I paid dearly for it."

Jesse listened as Dennis told him of his ‘addiction’ to young girls and rough sex, to the story of his arrest and subsequent ‘rescue’. Flinched slightly as he witnessed, through the other man’s memories, the horror and abuses of being nothing more than a sex-slave to a Goa’uld, one insane from overuse of his sarcophagus, and the drugs that he abused. Wondered about the other men who had been captured as well, each of them with talents that the Goa’uld, Tem, had needed.

Dennis had been right, it wasn’t easy to hear. And it sure as hell made his time in that Iraqi prison look like summer camp in comparison. His respect for the man continued to grow the longer Dennis talked, his voice soft, nearly devoid of emotion.

Gary liked to say that there wasn’t a human being alive who didn’t have a scar or two somewhere on their body, with matching wounds on their heart and soul. Some were more scarred than others. Some, Jesse thought, sipping his coffee after Dennis had finished speaking, had more scars than any one person should ever have to deal with.

"Your daughter, is she getting better?" Jesse asked softly.

Dennis’ face lit up. "She’s improving every day. Now that the device that was used to continue her torture is gone, she can heal. It won’t happen quickly. But Doctor MacKenzie assures me that it will happen."

"Don’t give up hope," Jesse replied. "As long as she’s alive, there’s always hope."

There was an entire story behind that comment, Dennis thought. And when...if...the young man was so inclined, he would hear about it. Until then, he wouldn’t ask.

When the alarms on the computers began to beep, the two men slid into chairs, their fingers flying over keyboards, watching and waiting, hoping to be able to keep this very persistent hacker, one Harold Maser, from getting into the systems of the SGC.


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